If you’re looking for a break from boring corporate rock, then this list of the 10 best indie rock albums is a pretty good place to start. You’ll find no Nickelback here, nor will you hear that same Smash Mouth song you’ve been hearing on the radio since the 1990's. No, these albums made the list because they’re really good, not because they were shoved down the public’s throats by uncaring record industry executives.
- “Illinois” by Sufjan Stevens. Building on the quiet beauty of his previous effort, “Michigan,” Stevens got a bit more grandiose with his “Illinois.” A masterpiece of modern music, “Illinois” is sprawling, orchestral, and an absolute joy to listen to. For those reasons, it tops our list of the best indie rock albums.
- “The Suburbs” by Arcade Fire. Arcade Fire have also been known for the grandiosity of their music. They did not disappoint with their third album, “The Suburbs.” A bit more focused and disciplined than their previous efforts, “The Suburbs” had everything that’s good about Arcade Fire with little to no filler.
- “Surfer Rosa” by The Pixies. Without The Pixies, we may never have had bands like Nirvana and Weezer, both of whom acknowledged a great debt to these pioneers of indie rock. “Surfer Rosa” was their first album and to many it’s still their best. With solid production by Steve Albini and standout tracks like “Where Is My Mind?” it is one of the best rock albums ever, indie or otherwise.
- “Let It Be” by The Replacements. Another band that has had a huge impact on modern rock music is The Replacements. Rocking primarily during the 1980s, The Replacements were putting out raw, angry guitar rock when mainstream music seemed obsessed with weak-sounding synths and drum machines. “Let It Be” was their last album before signing to a major label, so it may not come as a surprise that they never quite topped it.
- “The Argument” by Fugazi. The D.C. music scene would not exist without Fugazi. That’s indisputable fact. Although many point to their first album, “Repeater,” as their best, we still give the nod to “The Argument.” It’s the rare album that manages to be both accessible and uncompromising, and for that reason it is one of the best indie albums rock albums of all time.
- “Diary” by Sunny Day Real Estate. It may be debatable whether being considered a pioneering “emo” band is a good or bad thing, but Sunny Day’s raw, emotional honesty did indeed set the stage for many lesser bands to come. “Diary” is hands down their best album. After this one, they broke up and reformed a few times and put out music with increasingly diminishing returns.
- “Give Up” by The Postal Service. Part rock, part electronic, The Postal Service’s sole full-length album has become an enduring icon of indie rock. Though it has spawned many second-rate imitators (we’re looking at you, Owl City) there is still no other album that sounds quite like this one.
- “You Forgot It in People” by Broken Social Scene. The juggernaut that is Broken Social Scene actually started out as a modest bedroom rock outfit. With this, their second release, they threw that out the window and went big. The result is a bombastic and mesmerizing album, and one of the best indie rock has to offer.
- “Ágætis byrjun” by Sigur Rós. Pretentious post-rock bands have come and gone, but Sigur Rós has managed to continue putting out worthwhile music throughout their career. Still, “Ágætis byrjun” is their masterpiece. It is as beautiful and compelling a post-rock album you will find, with more of an emphasis on the rock part of the equation than most.
- “Daydream Nation” by Sonic Youth. Sonic Youth are the often-unsung heroes of ‘90s “alternative” rock music and played a large part in bands like Nirvana and Pavement getting signed with major labels. Before they were a major label force to be reckoned with, though, Sonic Youth released one of the best indie rock albums ever: “Daydream Nation.” It’s noisy and experimental but never pretentious, and also a lot of fun to listen to.
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